By Bishop Gerald Barnes
As the Bishop of a large diocese I am confronted with many weighty matters that take a great deal of my strength (and God’s) to address. So it is the small and sometimes unexpected moments of grace that are so important and sustaining. Such a moment came this week when I was paid a visit by a group of five royally dressed young ladies, whose ages range from 8 to 19 years old, from the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Guadalupe parish in Mecca. Many of us know the story of Mecca, a very poor but extremely faithful community made up primarily of farm workers and immigrants. Some of us also know that more than two years ago the roof of the church collapsed and left the people to worship in a tent until last October when their new church was finally opened.
The parish is renovating the original church to serve as a parish center. In March they called on the young ladies, who were introduced to me as the “Queens of the Grape Harvest,” to help raise money for the project. The “Queens” presided over food sales, car washes, a raffle and other fundraisers. By the time they were finished, they had raised $72,000. That is more than many families in their community will earn in two or three years.
Much is written and said these days about the changes in our youth culture and the challenge of maintaining a living Catholic faith in our young people. As I looked at the “Queens” in their regal dresses and crowns and listened to them talk about why they put forth so much effort to help repair their church building, I couldn’t help but think that the Holy Spirit is at work in this generation, too. “The top of the church was all broken. I was helping it to be beautiful,” said one. Another was moved to tears as she spoke about receiving a blessing from her grandmother before she was selected as one of the queens.
At the end of their visit to the Diocesan Pastoral Center, I offered a blessing to the “Queens.” As I reflect on their story, I give thanks to God for blessing us with such faith-filled young people.